World's biggest cancer database to aid new treatment development

In collaboration with the Press Association

A major new database funded by Cancer Research UK will use artificial intelligence to help scientists discover new cancer treatments.

The CanSAR system will make 1.7 billion experimental results available to researchers, pooling knowledge and data in one freely-accessible resource.

"The clues we need to tackle cancer are hidden in data like this and by making it freely available we can boost our progress and make breakthroughs sooner" - Nell Barrie, Cancer Research UK

Information stored in the database will be analysed by technology similar to that used to predict weather and will allow researchers to predict potential targets for anti-cancer drugs in the future.

Cancer Research UK's senior science information manager, Nell Barrie, said the database would help scientists from different countries work together.

"The CanSAR database makes it easy for scientists around the world to tap into huge amounts of information - from the lab and the clinic - to fuel new discoveries," she explained.

"The clues we need to tackle cancer are hidden in data like this and by making it freely available we can boost our progress and make breakthroughs sooner."

CanSAR is the biggest disease database of its kind in the world. It is capable of holding more information than the Hubble space telescope would gather in a million years of use.

The database was developed by researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London. Team leader Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani said the database uses findings from laboratories, patient research, genetics and chemistry studies to perform "extraordinarily complex virtual experiments".

"It can spot opportunities for future cancer treatments that no human eye could be expected to see," Dr Al-Lazikani said.

The new CanSAR database will cope with a huge expansion of cancer data following advances in technologies such as DNA sequencing.

It contains information about nearly one million testable drugs and over a thousand types of cancer cell.

Research that had previously taken months to complete could now be performed in minutes.

Professor Paul Workman, deputy chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, said: "This is an extraordinary time for cancer research, as advances in scientific techniques open up new possibilities and generate unprecedented amounts of data."

"Our aim is to make this wealth of information, coming from both the clinic and from the laboratory, freely available in a very user-friendly form to as many people as possible."

A smaller-scale prototype of CanSAR attracted 26,000 users in more than 70 countries, and earlier this year helped identify 46 previously overlooked drug treatment possibilities for cancer molecules.

Copyright Press Association 2013